- seven days, one car, no sleep and too many instant noodles -
48.3000° N, 8.1500° E
I had just finished up my very last courses for the year and felt like my life was running on the soundtrack of David Hasselhoff’s I’ve been looking for freedom. Laura would spend the summer in England, watching children having holidays for ten pounds an hour, and I was set to leave Europe a week later.
Let’s go somewhere, she said, as we realised we wouldn’t see each other all summer. Where, I asked, I don’t care, she answered, anywhere, only it has to be cheap, close and we only have a week. No pressure.
We went to the black forest.
Here’s the thing: I’m a city boy. I grew up with the tram right in front of my door, I fell asleep at night to the sounds of the bars and restaurants below my window and I grew up to the rhythm of a million cars trying to find a parking spot in the city centre.
The last time I entered a forest I was ten and my mom had made me visit my grandmother. She lived in this house right next to the forest, with a giant garden, raspberry bushes, hedgehogs and a million snails (which we would hunt mercilessly at night), in this tiny village that didn’t even have a supermarket.
There was no internet and no computers, no fast food, no tram, the children didn’t watch TV, they played in the wild, built tree houses, swam in the small lake down the road, made little swords from wood and mountain biked all day long.
We would take long hikes across mountains and meadows, we would watch wild animals and collect mushrooms and inhale the clean air and feel the warm sun burn on our arms as we would walk barefoot through the underbrush.
Obviously I hated it.
Fifteen years later, Laura rolls her eyes. And oh my god, wild strawberries, the tiny ones, and the forest, all those trees, and the fresh air and the silence and the birds and, oh wow, do you think we can see deers? Do they have deers? I want to see deers! My eyes glow wildly as I speak. We can take long hikes across the mountains and meadows and watch wild animals and trees and.. CAN YOU IMAGINE?
Yeah, i guess, says the girl who has not lived in a bubble for a decade.
Here's another thing. The Black Forest, it's big. That little park around the block with those trees and the tiny artificial lake?
Yeah, that’s cute. The Black Forest is nothing like that. It's not your typical bunch of trees having a good time. It's Woodstock.
The Black Forest consists of a few many bazillion trees, a bunch of lakes, a few hints of civilisation here and there that most likely do not qualify for Amazon prime, pizza delivery or free wifi, and hundreds of rustic traditional hotels with wood paneling, stuffed animal heads on the ceiling and a very religious attitude towards beer and sausage.
Of course my plan was to take photos. Why else would I sacrifice the comfort and security of my cozy home and all night super markets for the adventurous life of canned food and sleeping in a rental car?
I already had the photos taken, edited and uploaded to my mind. Foggy landscape, millions of trees in the morning mist, the blue of a sleepy sun, mountains ("are there mountains in the Black Forest?" "I guess so.."), with snowy tips and cold and bare stone ("you do realise it's July?"). It would be great.
So, where to, she asks, five minutes in. The Black Forest, I say, with big eyes. Yeah, but where?
I stare at her. She stares back.
Ten minutes and two missed exits later we sit in an overcrowded McDonalds, drink plastic milkshakes out of paper cups and try to download the "black forest tourist app" via free wifi.
I feel dirty.
Fifteen minutes later. The app didn't work and we're back on the road. Ten minutes later, we're close to Erfurt, Laura gets sick.
So how bad is it, I ask. Her silence gives me a pretty good estimate.
The last time I met the father of a girlfriend, he invited me for a beer, I told him I didn't drink and his five year old son called me a sissy.
Coincidentally, Laura's father lives in Erfurt. Coincidentally, he doesn't know about me. Coincidentally, Laura's face is as white as a barf bag.
So.. I begin. I mean, we could.. you know.. she looks at me like she's about to ruin the rental car.
Ten minutes later. A huge man with huge arms opens the door as Laura rushes inside with a pale face and blown up cheeks.
Five minutes later. I hold Laura's hair back.
Ten minutes later. Laura's father invites me to dinner.
"Oh, I'm fine, thank you", I say, desperately holding onto Laura's hair.
"No, it's okay, you should eat something" she mumbles from the bottom of the bowl.
"No really, I mean, you need me right now, I should take care of you" I say with a very. subtle. increase in persistence.
"I'm sure you're hungry, get some rest as well" she says completely oblivious.
Somewhere in the distance I can hear the Green Mile-soundtrack playing.
Two minutes later. I'm sitting at the kitchen table, opposite me are sitting Laura's father, his new wife, two children. Kafka's last supper. I reach for the butter.
If you search on google maps for the Black Forest, it will point you to the Black Forest High Road. The Black Forest High Road is a, well, long, high road in the Black Forest, which everyone praises for its beautiful view and scenery.
As it turns out, it is also surrounded by, well, the goddamn black forest, which makes it rather inevitable to miss the wood for trees! We arrive at our destination - according to our GPS - in the middle of the night with no way to actually verify that statement. There is nothing but pitch black darkness and trees wherever we go.
We take a rest right by the road, in car seats that turn out to be surprisingly comfortable, and with the cheapest sleeping bags we found on Amazon that turn out to be super warm and cozy.
On the other hand, we sleep with the dilemma of either suffocating in the car or opening the window a bit, which, we know this for sure, comes with the free chance of being murdered by bloodthirsty grizzly bears.
At 12 am, we stay strong. At 1 am, we fight. At 3 am, we opt for the dangerous life of a slightly opened car window.
At 5am my alarm rings and we get up to take photos of the sunset. As we get out of the car, the cold and moist air of a quiet, grey, gloomy morning sets on our skin and dampens our steps. I notice the five single family-houses right next to our car that we thought to have parked in pure wilderness.
I pass them and walk down the hill towards a meadow of blue and grey and the white of the fog that slowly gives way for the rising sun.
Some sheep stare at me in apathy as I pull out the tripod Laura's father gave me and set up my first shot.
The black forest, I think. Trees. Fog. Mountains. Wild animals!